14 Powerful Quick Tips That Can Help You Instantly Improve Your Guitar Tone
If you are like most guitarists out there, you will have at some point found it frustrating getting the "perfect tone." Try the following tips to help improve your guitar sound.
Crank Up The Mids!A great live tone starts with the EQ. Crank those mids. It's as simple as that. Human hearing is focused in the mid range. The rest of the band covers the majority of the low and high frequencies. From a very simplistic point of view, a drummer and bassist cover the lows, cymbals and vocals cover the highs, so that really only leaves one place for the guitar - the mid frequencies. When creating a live tone, I ask myself two simple questions: "How good does my guitar sound?" "Can I hear my guitar clearly in the mix without the volume of the amp being excessive?" If you can answer a firm 100% "yes" to both questions, you're in the right ballpark, THEN tweaking for the minor details can commence, but if your sound is great, yet gets lost in the mix, you may have to go back to basics. Likewise, if you can hear yourself clearly but your tone sucks, you may need to make some adjustments too. This though, is very rare in my experience. 99% of the time a guitarist's tone sucks because they've spent countless hours tweaking a cool tone in the bedroom but not realising it sounds nothing short of a flabby mess in the band mix.
Use a Heavier Gauge Set of StringsMany guitarists love the feel of a light or ultra light set of strings with a gauge of about .09 or even .08 but a slightly heavier gauge of. 10 will often instantly add more meat and power to your tone. Try going a gauge heavier. I play in Drop C# in my band and I noticed the difference straight away when I switched to. 10s with a. 54 on the 6th string. Are they harder to play? Marginally Do they sound better? Absolutely Try it out. The feel is important so if you don't like it you can always switch back to a lighter gauge or change brand.
Use Some Slap back DelayWe have all played live in certain venues where the room sounds "dead." You know the feeling when you are playing a lead part and nothing is sparkling. There is just a dull, muted natural lack of reverb. You may be tempted to switch on a reverb pedal, but live this can be a tricky business. You can often get "set back in the mix" with on stage reverb, and get lost in the sound. A short slap back delay with one or two repeats is often a better answer. It will thicken up your tone counteracting the dead venue without mashing up your sound like on-stage reverb can sometimes do.
Adjust Your Pick GripI used to get a bit frustrated on my quest for tone when players would say: "Tone is all in the fingers and hands." It seemed like a lazy thing to me, but since teaching guitar and helping others adjust the pick, this one bit of advice is gold. If you hold the pick too tight which so many players do you will get a harsh loud sound lacking subtlety, and if you hold it too loose, you will get a weak sound and the pick will slide about. The best thing for tone and playability is to hold you pick tight enough so it can't be pulled out of your fingers with your other hand, but no tighter than that. The difference the pressure you have here makes (even more so on none compressed acoustic guitars) is huge. Try holding the pick as hard as possible and now strum softly. It's very difficult to do. Hold that pick softer. You will have a much better tone instantly.
Order Your Effects for ToneGetting your on-board effects in the "correct" order is difficult. It can be tempting to put the reverb in front of the delay and the wah behind the distortion for alternative sounds. It really is best to leave this for the studio though, especially if you find your tone sucks. Here are 4 guidelines for effects order.
- Wah, Compressors and EQ should be placed BEFORE distortion and overdrive should be near the start of the signal chain. An exception to this is when using vintage-style fuzz. These usually need to be slotted in before the wah. Try putting your wah before and after your distortion and listen to how different it sounds.
- Modulation effects such as chorus, flanger and phaser usually work best AFTER distortion. It's worth mentioning though that some analogue pedals - particularly Univibes and their clones - often work better in front of distortion.
- Delay and echo effects are designed to repeat what's been played into them so place them towards the BACK of the signal chain. They're also good when placed in your amp's FX loop if it has one.
- Reverb should pretty much always be at the END of your chain. Anywhere else often masks it effect and sounds weak and messy.